Ellicott City - Soak It Up – Part 3 – By, Lori Lilly

posted Jun 18, 2019, 12:41 PM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated Jun 27, 2019, 5:05 AM ]

Did you miss Part 1, Soak It Up event highlights?  Find it HERE.


Did you miss Part 2 too, on watershed tours?  Find it HERE.


Part 3 of this blog series took longer to get to than anticipated!  I’m going to jump right into biochar and save the discussion on Tour #3, which revolves around individual stewardship, for blog #4, the last blog, which will cover resiliency.


Where to start with biochar…


Well, my preference is to first broaden the discussion from biochar to soil health in general for a few reasons…

  1. I’m finding that when I talk about biochar, extreme reactions are the result.  It’s like folks will immediately get excited and ready to be part of this be-all-end-all strategy for saving the world OR they are turned off, skeptical and dubious about biochar itself and whoever is delivering the message.  Of course, as usual, we are looking for the middle ground here.
  2. We’re talking about biochar because we have this bigger problem with our soils – they are degraded, compacted and generally unhealthy.  Biochar is one of many strategies that can be used to improve soil health.  Biochar, being relatively new as a discussion point yet ancient in actual practice, is providing a vehicle for elevating the discussion of real underlying issues with our soil.
  3. Soil doesn’t get enough attention.  If you’re in agriculture, soil gets all kinds of attention but for some reason, it seems lost on the rest of us in the conservation field in terms of its importance to ecosystem services, including rainwater infiltration, carbon sequestration and stormwater runoff reduction.  We forgot what we learned in elementary school, which is that soil is a non-renewable resource – once it’s gone, it’s gone for pretty much good.
  4. Soil organic carbon and the potential for carbon sequestration in soil is a very real thing, just like climate change.  Some facts:

Here is a graphic to remind you of the carbon cycle.  We have emissions and plant and animal respiration putting carbon dioxide into the air, we have photosynthesis binding up carbon in plants, we have decay and decomposition putting carbon into the soil and we have carbon dioxide dissolving on the ocean’s surface where the majority eventually ends up in the deep ocean.

Probably good to take a second at this point to define biochar, oops!…Biochar is a charcoal material formed by combusting waste organic matter in an oxygen-limited environment. Biochar has high internal porosity and low particle density that facilitates increased infiltration.  Ongoing research at the University of Delaware shows that amending wood-derived biochar to a roadway soil that was initially classified in Hydrologic Soil Group B moved the soil into Hydrologic Soil Group A.  With this change, stormwater runoff volume was reduced by 88% on average for 84 storm events over 1.5 years of testing.  Biochar can be made from many different types of organic feedstock and therefore can have variable properties that are also dependent on the process used to make it. 


Biochar has been used in agriculturefor 2,500 years.  Research is ongoing with regards to the many environmental benefits associated with biochar.  Two leading national and international sources of information on biochar include the US Biochar Initiative and the International Biochar Initiative.  The USDA has also conducted a lot of research on biochar, HERE is a sample.   Take a second to check out this graphic illustrating how biochar ties into the carboncycle.  If the pyrolysis process is used to create other energy products such as bio-oil or syn-gas, then we can see up to 50% less return of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with that same amount of carbon sequestered in the soil.



My own interest in biochar was spurred by the UDel research referenced above.  That is an amazing runoff reduction and indicates the potential for a very cost effective practice simply by amending soil.  What are the implications on a watershed scale?  What are the implications for the Tiber Hudson watershed?  What if we could take the 800 acres of grass land cover in the watershed and amend it with biochar – how much runoff reduction could we expect to see and how would that cost compare to other proposed strategies?  Seems worth exploring if you ask me.  And that’s why we amended a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant that we have for the Soak It Up campaign to support additional research on biochar with UDel in the Tiber Hudson watershed.  Our research plots are on two different soil types in the watershed – silt loam at St. Peter’s Church and loam at Slack Funeral Home.  This research project will continue for another 6 months or so and then we will share results. 


So biochar can help to reduce stormwater runoff volumes and water quality pollution, but it can also be a strategy for carbon sequestration, increasing soil organic carbon and generally improving soil health.  Problem is, it’s not very available as of yet.  Production is not happening in MD.  But as stated earlier, it is an ancient practice and we can in fact make it ourselves!   I have been experimenting with making biochar in kiln that I had commissioned by Bill Knapp of Bill Knapp Arts:  This was fashioned by designs that are available from a woman named Kelpie Wilson from Oregon who is really taking biochar to new levels:   My friends Paul and Phal at Ridge to Reefs have been supporting me in these efforts while doing all kinds of incredible work around the globe with biochar.  

Some fun things about making your own biochar:

      • It’s a great past-time in cooler months and a wonderful way to bring people together (especially when beer  and bagpipes are involved).  Everyone, whether they participated or not, feels like they were part of something productive and bigger than themselves.
      • It’s definitely a more active process than sitting back and watching the fire turn the wood to ash.  We may not have figured the process out entirely yet and may be working too hard to get good coals before we douse them with water but, still, expect to be more active.
      • The fire is started on top of the wood, which kind of throws the whole boy-scout philosophy of starting the fire on the bottom on its head.  But in this way, a better draft and less smoke is created.  Even if you’re not making biochar, this seems like a best practice that any outdoor-loving enviro can take on.
      • You’ll need something to put the biochar in.  I’ve used burlap bags that can hold up to 10 gallons and still be tossed over the shoulder – only problem is if the biochar is still wet or moist when put in the bags, they can get moldy.  The Phoenix has loads of 5 gallon buckets that have been working pretty well 😊


I’ll be having more backyard biochar burns starting this fall.  Meantime, we are also looking to add commercial grade biochar to our rain garden/biortention soil mix for our summer construction projects at about 5% by volume.  We are also generally looking for more ways and opportunities to get carbon into the ground, be it in the form of wood chips, compost and/or biochar.  One technique that we are interested in trying, is adding a layer of wood chips as shown in the graphic below to facilitate the denitrification process.  If we use this model that includes compost and biochar in the soil mix (“sand layer”) and wood chips on the bottom, we will have added three sources of carbon to the practice that will degrade at different times from a couple years to a couple hundred years and, ideally, enhance the overall functionality and ecosystem service benefit of the project.


When we talk about getting carbon into the soil, it enables us to re-think our waste streams.  The Alpha Ridge Landfill has so much organic wood waste- from slash piles to mulch to wood chips- that the County has a hard time moving.  Instead of letting this decompose and get back into the atmosphere, how can we bury it so it becomes part of the soil carbon pool?  Better yet, how we can use it to produce biochar and sequester that carbon in the ground for hundreds of years while also filtering contaminants from stormwater and reducing overall runoff volumes?  So far, I haven’t been successful getting the County to move on this, and certainly production at the landfill is out of the question.  They have also recently invested heavily in compost operations so may not like to hear that compost leaches nutrients but a blend of compost with biochar could be ideal for some applications.  In any case, there are existing mandates for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.  It seems carbon management is or at least should be right around the corner - how can we start embracing local carbon management strategies as a contribution that we can make here locally to climate change?

Stay tuned for the last in this blog series - we'll be visiting Resiliency.


Ellicott City Soak It Up - Part 2 - By, Lori Lilly

posted May 30, 2019, 1:07 PM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated May 30, 2019, 1:25 PM ]

Did you miss Part 1?  Find it HERE.

Last we left off at the 5/18/19 Soak It Up Community Gathering, the watershed tours were getting ready to start!  Below we will review some educational goals, background and details associated with the two of the three tours.  Tour #3 will be covered in blog #3 with biochar!

Tour 1 – Recent Floods and Mitigation Options

This group was led by community members: 1) Angie Tersiguel who owns Tersiguel’s Restaurant in Ellicott City - Angie and I met through our service on the Community Advisory Group (CAG) after the 2016 flood, we have since worked together in many capacities on behalf of Ellicott City and she has notably been on and helped me lead many watershed tours for local leaders since then; 2) Beth Woodruff – local resident community leader who I also met through the CAG.  I will never forget her honorable son Eli shoveling mulch and compost for community members at our 2016 native plant giveaway; 3) Dave Myers – who I met through our service on the Flood Workgroup – we sat in monthly meetings from 2015 through 2018 that were interspersed with becoming friends and developing a mutual admiration for one another; and 4) Ed Lilley – we have no relation that we know of but I like to pretend that he is my grandfather for kicks 😊 The guards at the George Howard Building never cease to comment on my relationship with “Mayor Ed,” indeed, Ed has more affiliations with Ellicott City groups than anyone I know and his knowledge and history of the town are not surpassed by very many.  We serve together primarily on the Ellicott City Partnership’s Clean, Green and Safe Committee.

Angie Tersiguel and Beth Woodruff - watershed tour leaders
Dave Myers and Ed Lilley - watershed tour leaders

This tour group left St Peter’s church and went north a short bit on Rogers Ave to Stop 1 – Quaker Mill pond (near the intersection of Rogers and Ellicott Mills), which is a pond retrofit project that will add 10 acre feet of water storage to the Rogers Ave subdrainage.  Although 10 acre feet is only 1.25% of the total 800 acre feet of storage being sought, the contribution to localized flood reduction at the Rogers / Frederick intersection cannot be under-estimated.  This is scheduled to be one of the earlier projects completed for flood mitigation.  The group headed back south towards Frederick for Stop #2 at the Historic Ellicott City Colored School, pointing out flood heights and extents to the group along the way.  There are many talking points from the Colored School from 1) concrete channels that are an “old-school” method of stream restoration (designed by the Army Corps of Engineers of course) not used any longer to 2) the flood warning system, Department of Homeland Security monitoring station and USGS flood gauge all located at this location to 3) opening remarks about the challenges associated with constrictions like culverts and bridges and issues of sedimentation from sources such as streambank erosion and hillslope failures to 4) the importance of debris management in the stream system – debris being one of the primary contributing factors to flooding and noting the importance of regular maintenance as part of a comprehensive watershed management approach. 

From here the group walked east into the West End neighborhood.  Unlike the downtown business district, the West End neighborhood had significant flooding in 2011 and neighbors have been rallying for resources and flood remediation for longer than most.  The group visited the famous “84/108 pipe” aka “8600 pipe.”  This is a culvert pipe that crosses under Frederick and West End Services for approximately 1500’ before outletting just east of West End Services.  The pipe originally installed at this location was 108” in diameter but during a repair was re-lined such that the diameter was reduced to 84”.  This is a significant constriction in the system, to be addressed with a series (5, last I heard) of overflow pipes that will be installed in the next several years. 

At this location (and actually in the last as well), another colleague from the Flood Workgroup, Ron Peters, installed several live web-based cameras that can be accessed by neighbors and County staff through an app on our phones so that we can see the conditions of the stream channels at any time.  Ron generously installed these cameras right before the 2018 flood, primarily using his own money and including a small grant that EcoWorks obtained and some fundraising led by Ed.  The data that Ron collected during the 2018 flood has been instrumental in calibrating and verifying the hydrologic and hydraulic models used in developing solutions.  The videos are also extremely educational for the public to see what happened on that fateful evening in 2018.  Illana Bittner has all 12 cameras displayed simultaneously on this video, which we showed throughout our 5/18 Soak It Up event.  Ron has marked the heights on the 84/108 pipe so that we can see from his camera how full the pipe is from our phones and the adjacent neighbor has the pipe marked with a line at “50% full – Get Out” – this is a very humbling reminder of what the locals deal with every time it rains. 

The tour group walked into West End a little further making one more stop alongside the stream to further show the impacts of our repetitive themes of erosion, sedimentation, threat to infrastructure, failing infrastructure, impacts to community members and areas where projects are proposed.  It is a lot to discuss and a lot to see.  Ron and I did a video tour that is available on youtube if you would like to check it out:  Further information about the proposed projects and plans are available in full on the County’s Safe and Sound web-site.

Tour 2 Balancing Historic Preservation and Flood Mitigation

This tour was led by Shawn Gladden, Director of the Howard County Historical Society, and Kip Mumaw, a water resources engineer and owner of the engineering company Ecosystem Services LLC.  The group left St Peters, went south to Frederick Rd and hung a right to visit a proposed stream restoration site that I have been working on for the past 3 years.  The “reach,” which is a fancy name for stream length, is between the bridge at 8777 Frederick and downstream almost to the Colored School.  Originally the reach started at Papillon Dr and included the wooded area between Papillon and the culvert by 8777 – but that was before the 2016 flood.  It really is amazing how quickly things change and how adaptable we need to be to the changing situation.  I feel like this project is emblematic of just that. 

Shawn Gladden and Kip Mumaw - watershed tour leaders

Some background on this project…I had completed the Tiber Hudson Subwatershed Action Plan in 2012 when I worked with the Center for Watershed Protection.  The plan that we developed was specific to “the uplands,” that means “the watershed,” basically everything outside of the stream corridor (the stream corridor meaning both the stream itself and the floodplain).  We left out the stream because a stream corridor assessment had already been completed at that time so presumably the County knew where the problem outfalls, erosion sites and other areas of concern were.  At the time of the completion of that study, we also were not, knowingly, using the correct watershed boundary – we used what the County was using that excluded the New Cut Branch subwatershed because it was beyond the scope of our study and work to delineate the complete watershed boundary and have it adopted by the County.  (Later after the 2016 flood, Ron and I did in fact drive around and delineate the complete watershed boundary, our results were pretty close to that produced by McCormick Taylor for the modeling.)

I began implementing the watershed plan when I was still working at the Center for Watershed Protection in part because there was no group existing that would take the lead on doing such, in fact, the first recommendation of the watershed plan was to form a watershed-based group to implement the plan (if you look at places like Montgomery County, they have tons of watershed and “Friends of <insert waterbody>” groups).  At CWP, I included multiple projects from the plan in a grant to the MD Department of Natural Resources with support from the County.  Although I left CWP in 2014, a few of those projects were still ultimately implemented: two bioretention facilities at the Bethyl Korean church and two pond retrofit projects, one at Rusty Rim and Rogers Ave and another at Seventh Day Adventist. 

Post the 2011 and 2016 floods, Stream Corridor Assessments were again completed, this time by S&S Planning and Design.  Those assessment documented the importance of debris management, prioritized erosion areas, outfalls of concern, constriction points and identified a series of projects.  One of those projects was within the reach of concern and contained “the sand bag wall” – one landowner’s approach to streambank stabilization.  This reach also notably contains the historic St. Paul cemetery maintained by Liz Larney and her lovely mother – maintained that is until the 2018 flood when the reach became so over-widened that the steel walkway that they kept tethered to a tree could no longer could reach the other side of the stream where the cemetery is.

"Sand bag wall"
Location of historic St Paul cemetery 

I received a grant just prior to the 2016 flood from the MD Heritage Area Authority to begin Phase I designs of a stream restoration project in this area.  As stated above, originally, the proposed reach went from Papillon Dr to the Colored School, which was a mixture of public property and private property.  I chose this section of stream because 1) it had been identified in a plan and funders always want to see that; 2) the sand bag wall seemed entirely inadequate and I know we can do better; 3) being upstream of the West End neighbors that I had been working with, I thought it would help them out being downstream; 4) the County has trouble making improvements on private lands so it would be a good way to complement their efforts; and 5) if a project with the private landowners didn’t work out, a project on the public land should have no concerns.  The County supported the grant application that went in under the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay who I was working for at the time.  The application also required support from then Senator Gail Bates and Delegate Bob Flanagan, who both provided letters of support.  No sooner was the grant award made when the 2016 flood occured.  What happened with the project was that we had to drop the public part of the reach from the proposal because the County had identified that same area as a proposed flood retention location.  So I moved forward with the private landowners and 750lf of stream for the remainder of the project.  All of the landowners remained largely on-board though some were more on-board than others.  That grant got us to 60% design plans with our contractor Ecosystem Services for the stream restoration with goals of stabilizing the streambanks, reducing erosion, creating some storage and directing the flow so that there was less impact to the streambanks.
Location of proposed stream restoration

To complete the design plans, I applied to the Chesapeake Bay Trust.  They awarded the grant and, again, no sooner had the grant been awarded when the 208 flood happened :/  That flood threw this project up in the air because the County was re-assessing priorities and projects and I did not want our project to get in the way of larger efforts.  The landowners were also getting impatient with progress and a bit harder to work with.  The historic home located at 8777 also came more into question as the foundation of the home also serves as the streambank (the entire parcel is within the 100 year floodplain), and we learned that the culvert at that location was under-sized for even a 10 year storm and was to be widened at some point. We also learned that an undergound detention “pipe farm” was proposed within the project reach across from the cemetery.  It turned out that our engineer could account for all of the factors with the design plans and we were able to move ahead.  We made the assumption that the historic home would be moved due to the culvert widening proposal as that would also be much better for the proposed stream restoration.

Other developments that have occurred since include purchase of 8777 by the County and transfer of ownership of 8787 to a new owner.  The culvert widening project seems to have gotten moved up in the timeline, which begs the question of what will happen with the structure and if the stream restoration project can be implemented simultaneously, which would be ideal.  Permits for the project have been submitted and are in review but the permit reviewers also want to know what will happen with the house.  While I am still looking for funding to construct the project, my hope is that the County will take the lead from here.  This is not a project that the sources of funds that I am used to going to will want to fund because it is not cost effective enough for “pounds of nutrient and sediment reduced,” the primary metric considered.  It could potentially be cost effective for supplemental funding from a grantor if the County kicked in funds. 

Stream restoration is a best management practice (BMP) used heavily by the County for meeting their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (MS4) permit obligations.  Funds already exist in the capital budget for projects such as this, it is just a matter of re-directing them from other areas.  I’m not aware of any stream restoration projects to date in the Tiber Hudson watershed most likely because it is more cost effective to implement these projects in less urban areas.  But the need exists and while many people complain about the sedimentation and wonder why the stream hasn’t been dredged, it’s important to understand that most of the sediment is coming from the streambanks themselves so until the sources of sediment are addressed, there is not much point in dredging the channel.

That was a lot of background on the project and the points that I want to make and some of which were made on the tour are:

·        Preserving historic structures and mitigating flooding are sometimes at odds with one another but can be complementary.  This could be exemplified in this project if the historic home could be moved and elevated allowing the culvert widening and stream restoration to occur.  The historic cemetery that is being undermined by erosion would also be preserved.  Add a new breakaway bridge for Liz and her mom to access the cemetery for maintenance and we have a super cool project.  Consider making the historic newly elevated home a tribute to African American heritage and we’re talking a gold mine of demonstration and opportunity to showcase.

·        Stream restoration should be in our toolbox.  Yes we need retention and overflows and bypasses and bigger crossings, but we also need to stabilize these eroding banks and address the sedimentation into the streams.  Funds for stream restoration already exist but they have yet to be applied in the Tiber Hudson watershed (to my knowledge).  Capacity is already limited in undersized culverts and when they fill with sediment, they are that much more ineffective at conveying the flow.

·        The mitigation plans need to be adaptable.  Things change with each flood – with the infrastructure, with politics, with people’s tolerance and acceptance of timelines, with the hydrology and hydraulics, with the cost it will take to remediate. An adaptive framework will require a constant assessment - not that big changes will necessarily need to be made all the time, but they may be.  We need to be prepared to change our approach as the climate changes, as new technology becomes available, and as our priorities change.


Stay tuned for Part 3 – Soak It Up – DIY and BIOCHAR! and Part 4 - Resiliency

Ellicott City - Soak It Up – Part 1 - By, Lori Lilly

posted May 26, 2019, 8:15 PM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated May 28, 2019, 6:22 AM ]

On 5/18/2019, EcoWorks and friends descended on St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to hold EcoWorks’ first public event, the Ellicott City Soak It Up Community Gathering.  I had been planning the event for what seemed like forever and was nervous and stressed as all get out.  The goals were: 1) To educate as many people as possible about watersheds, stormwater, Ellicott City flooding and Soak It Up solutions; 2) to showcase an innovative solution to environmental problems – biochar; and 3) to bring the community together in a positive way to celebrate the watershed because, frankly, it has been a really rough year. 

The May 27, 2018 flood was devastating not just to infrastructure, business, economy and livelihoods, but to overall morale and unity – the proposed flood mitigation options that were to come tore the community apart with divisiveness.  My personal experiences working in the watershed span multiple capacities as a professional and volunteer since prior to the 2011 flood.  As the Executive Director of Howard EcoWorks, we remain non-partisan and apolitical on the larger flood mitigation planning; our focus is on doing anything that we can to support both the County and the community in proactive solutions that includes debris management, community outreach and education and small-scale in-ground projects to encourage the folks in the hills to slow it down, spread it out and sink it in…hence, our event.

This blog is lengthy, and it may end up in multiple parts by the time I am done (it has!); my intent is to share the story of our event – which is mixed with the story of Ellicott City as I know it since 2009, the community, and the personal connections and friendships that I have made over the years…mixed with my technical and professional study of the watershed that have morphed and evolved, and I’m sure will continue to do so.   Inter-mixed with this blog will be hyperlinks to resources and further information that you may be interested in checking out at your leisure.

So the initial photos included in this blog come from Pam Long Photography.  Pam is…frankly, incredible…even just a meager attempt at trying to sum up her contributions to the town, particularly through flood recovery, leave me rather speechless.  She is THERE for new business openings, older business re-opening, documenting, always smiling, a voice of reason and hope.  I know I am not the only one ever grateful for Pam Long.  All of Pam's photos can be viewed on the EcoWorks facebook page for this event.

…we lit the biochar fire prior to the start of the event so that it would be going when the event started.  This was our fifth Burn and probably our greatest success with starting the fire because we learned at Burn #4 that old Christmas trees really go up in flames fast, and that’s no joke!  When I say “we” here, I’m referring to myself, my husband Dave, my Ellicott City friends, Dave’s family, and Paul Sturm and his Ridge to Reefs staff.  Paul is the one that really turned me on to the benefits of biochar (more to come later) and producing small amounts on our own was really appealing.  I personally invested in a kiln last fall – it was made by Bill Knapp in Ellicott City from a design that Paul and his employee Phal Mantha had directed me to that is available online HERE.  Having backyard burns and beers has been a great deal of fun and burn #4 is when bagpipes were introduced.  Wendy Baird, a friend and owner of Insight 180, has a partner Jared Denhard, who brought his bagpipes to our Burn – at our party, he processed up our driveway followed by Dave’s cousin Neal (carrying a ham) and joined by Neal’s two kids, Livy and Hendrix.  It was memorable, to say the least…and led to Jared with his bagpipes opening our event. 

After Jared’s procession, I welcomed the crowd of 80+ people…addressing large groups is not my specialty.  I have gotten much better with presentations in general in something like a lecture format, but I am unfortunately too much of a recluse to ever really be a charismatic speaker 😊

I asked Anjel Scarborough, priest in charge at St. Peter’s Episcopal, to say a few words, which she graciously did.  St Peter’s was the base of emergency recovery operations after both the 2016 and 2018 floods and has since opened their doors countless times with every heavy rain.  To say that St. Peter’s is an asset to the community is an under-statement, the church is an integral part like no other.  Which is why Beth Woodruff, community leader extraordinaire, then presented Anjel with a beautiful plaque and booklet with 56 pages of thanks from members of the community.  

The Educational Part

After the opening ceremony, began the series of watershed tours, biochar briefs, streaming flood videos and interaction with the tables at the event.  Let’s start with the tours.

The Tours

I learned an incredible thing from community member Frank Durantaye, long time resident and outspoken advocate for retention, and that was the value of taking people on tours of the streams and watershed.  Frank invited our elected leaders and those in office out for tours and included me along to help with the technical pieces.  Our first tours were with Jon Weinstein and Allan Kittleman, who both were running for office at the time and Delegate Bob Flanagan.  We also brought out County staff like Jim Caldwell and County Council representatives, such as Terry Chaconas from Courtney Watson’s then District 1 office.  Frank brought walking sticks and flashlights and away we went into the stream channel.  Since that time, I have brought countless numbers of folks on tours, including past and present elected officials - Calvin Ball, Jen Terassa, Christiana Rigby, Courtney Watson, David Yungmann and Opel Jones - and groups/organization representatives.  I don’t make everyone walk in the stream like Frank did, but the tour has been turning into a 3 hour driving and walking adventure and, many times, I have been accompanied by some stalwart companions, notably Ron Peters and Dave Myers, my colleagues and friends from the Flood Workgroup and Angie Tersiguel, my colleague and friend from the Community Advisory Group.

So with the tours, again, the goal is education- education through seeing up-close, seeing through a different lens.  There are so many things to talk about, and I realized how much we could talk about within a pretty short walking distance of St. Peter’s; I arranged for three different tours with separate themes – 1) a review of the flood mitigation options from community member perspective, 2) assessment of flood mitigation and historic preservation from professional perspectives in each respective field, and 3) review of solutions that every homeowner can take to mitigate runoff problems.  It was a bit difficult for me to give the tour leader role away but I thought I needed to remain at the event, and of course it was a good call because the appointed fearless leaders did great 😊  Not being on the tours themselves, but having assisgned the leaders, determined their routes and assisted with talking points for each group, here is a summary of what, I believe, happened on each of the tours that educated more than 50 people in 45 minute time slots...


Stay tuned for Part 2 about The Tours!

StormwaterStory Map

posted Aug 21, 2018, 12:29 PM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated Aug 21, 2018, 12:29 PM ]

The Maryland Department of the Environment put together a wonderful StormwaterStory Map so that the public could learn about stormwater, why it matters, and what Maryland is doing to manage stormwater!  The StormwaterStory Map features two READY projects at the Greenleaf and Deering Woods neighborhoods.  Check it out!  StormwaterStory Map 

Sierra Villas - First Summer READY '18 Project Installation!

posted Jul 14, 2018, 8:28 AM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated Jul 14, 2018, 9:04 AM ]

The summer READY crews have been trained and completed their first project installations in the Sierra Villas neighborhood in Columbia!  The projects were quite extensive and a bit more complicated than anticipated.  The area was marked for utilities but many unmarked utility lines were found during excavation, which slowed the process as crews carefully hand dug to locate the lines.  All four of the Crew Leaders are commended for their attention to detail and conscientious approach to the project.  The 510 sf rain garden, 230 sf conservation landscape and 410 sf conservation landscape will provide water quality treatment to a 18,553 sf drainage area that is 38% impervious.  Native plants throughout the gardens will provide food and habitat for pollinators and wildlife.  Prior to project construction,  the area had extensive bare soil and pooled water for extended periods of time creating unwanted mosquito habitat.  The neighborhood and property management company are very pleased with the results!  See below for details, photos and a video of the final project!  Thank you Howard County Government and the Sierra Villas neighborhood for supporting this project and providing our teams with valuable work and project management experience!

Lori Lilly, Director, 7/14/2018

Project area prior to construction (the brown matting was installed after some pipes were replaced under the sidewalks):

The project was designed by Chris Moore of Cultivate Landscape Planning and Consulting.  Here is a portion of the design:

During project construction, uncovering many utilities:

And the project after construction - Check out this video, which shows the extent of the work:

Sierra Villas.MOV

The Ultimate Plant List!

posted Jul 12, 2018, 2:09 PM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated Jul 12, 2018, 2:12 PM ]

  • These plants do it all - they are shade loving, deer resistant, have deep root systems,  and are generally good for most types of soils!  Check 'em out and get planting!

  • 1. Chrysogonum virginianum-evergreen groundcover; easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade

  • 2. Phlox divaricata/stolonifera-tolerant of deer, drought, clay soil, dry soil, best grown in humusy, medium moisture, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade

  • 3. Scenecio aureus/Packera aurea-easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade, blooms well in shady locations

  • 4. Tiarella cordifolia- tolerant of deer, easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade

  • 5. Chasmanthium latifolium-deer resistant, spreads, easily grown in average, medium to wet, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Tolerant of poor soils, but prefers moist, fertile soils. One of the more shade tolerant of the ornamental grasses

  • 6. Lindera benzoin-tolerant of deer, drought, heavy shade, clay soil

  • 7. Ilex glabra-easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade, adaptable to both light and heavy soils, tolerates wet soils, prefers rich, consistently moist, acidic soils in full sun, good shade tolerance

  • 8. Geranium maculatum-tolerant of deer, drought, dry soil, easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade to shade, prefers moist, humusy soils, but tolerates poor soils

  • 9. Polystichum acrostichoides-best grown in organically rich, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade, tolerant of deer, drought, heavy shade, erosion, dry soil, shallow-rocky Soil

  • 10. Tradescantia virginiana-very adaptable plant prefers humus-rich soil but will grow in a wide range of soils: moist/dry, clay/sand, acid/alkaline

Time Lapse of 2018 Ellioctt City flood

posted Jun 3, 2018, 10:59 AM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated Jun 11, 2018, 9:26 AM ]

Below are a series of timelapse videos from the 5/27/18 Ellicott City flood. Ellioctt City Flood Workgroup member Ron Peters installed 13 cameras on the Tiber, Hudson and New Cut Branches 3 weeks before the flood with support from Peter Greer at Unilux security. EcoWorks and Lori Lilly, EcoWorks Executive Director and also Flood Workgroup member, supported Ron's efforts by obtaining a small safety grant from BG&E to help install the cameras. This type of video footage is critical documentation of the 2018 flood event.




EcoWorks Helps Inmates Plant Seeds for the Future

posted Apr 10, 2018, 12:59 PM by Howard Ecoworks

The Business Monthly featured Howard EcoWorks and our partnership with Howard County Department of Corrections in THIS ISSUE.  With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the EcoWorks team has designed and is installing a sustainable food plot with the in-mates after completing a classroom-based landscaping training for 19 particpants.  Check back here on the progress of the garden!

Historic Ellicott City Channel Maintenance

posted Oct 13, 2017, 7:14 AM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated Oct 16, 2017, 5:58 AM ]

Brandt Dirmeyer, Watershed Action Team-member, 6 Oct 2017

From Monday, October 2nd to Thursday, October 5th, the Watershed Action Team, a new program of Howard Ecoworks funded and supported by Howard County Government, worked within the Tiber Hudson subwatershed to remove debris and potential blockage issues from the streams. The WAT team is a collection of five individuals that will spend a 10-month term studying, assessing, conducting community outreach and implementing projects in Tiber Hudson subwatershed of the Patapsco River. The program is similar to Howard County’s Cleanscapes program and is in accordance with the Patapsco Valley Heritage Area (PVHA) Management Plan. Although I had been working within the watershed this past year as a Chesapeake Bay Trust Conservation Corpsmember with Patapsco Heritage Greenway, my WAT colleagues -- with the exception of Maria Clark -- are relatively unfamiliar with the tributaries and branches that course around and through Ellicott City’s historic district. This past week was our immersive lesson on the stormwater and infrastructure issues that this unique watershed faces.

Since its founding, Ellicott City has had to deal with its share of floods. As a mill town built upon four tributaries winding through a valley of shallow bedrock, Ellicott City was designed to economically thrive upon the steady-moving water of the Tiber Hudson subwatershed. Unfortunately for our modern society, the water that helped to develop Ellicott City into a booming granite community is now the town’s most pertinent safety issue. Most all of the town was developed before stormwater standards were mandatory, and many buildings along Main St are sited directly atop stream channels. With an increase in impermeable surfaces upstream and within the floodplain that houses the historic district, stormwater is an issue that needs to be better understood so that the Ellicott City community can be better prepared for any future high-intensity storms.

Stormwater accumulates during rain events due to the prevalence of impermeable surfaces. As the water accumulates on the surface, it follows the path of least resistance. Generally, this means that the water runs into nearby streams, carrying with it whatever debris it can, including trash, metal objects, fallen tree limbs, plastic outdoor furniture, and other items easily swept away. As humans have developed upon forested land, clearing trees for roofed buildings, asphalt roads, and concrete sidewalks, we’ve reduced the capacity for the land to absorb and percolate rain through the soil and rock into the water table. The roots of trees and plants also absorb water for their own use. As we have reduced the capacity for nature’s infrastructure to assist with the dissipation of rainwater, we must develop our infrastructure to accommodate for the increased severity of flooding.

Although there are projects currently in the design and development phases to reduce the impact of stormwater within the watershed, if another severe storm were to hit tomorrow, the town would still be ill-equipped to deal with the excess surface water. In order to mitigate as much near-future damage as possible, the WAT team spent four days surveying the Tiber Hudson stream channels under the leadership of Lori Lilly, the Executive Director of Howard EcoWorks, to assess and reduce potential hazards that could cause blockages. From sawing and axing fallen trees to removing rusted metal pipes long-since functional, the team worked tirelessly within the tributaries.

As time progressed, I became suspicious that Lori wanted us to do this work not only because it needed to be done to reduce damage risk to the town, but also to give us an immersive, multifaceted lesson on hydrology & sustainable infrastructure. As we passed underneath recently-flooded buildings and around channel walls built at right angles, all along the way spending so much energy to remove hazardous debris (~2.5 tons of wood waste, plastics, and scrap metal), I can safely say for the entire WAT team that we now know the benefits of proper infrastructure development, as well as the intense power of water. As the WAT team spends this upcoming year canvassing the watershed and working with homeowners in Ellicott City to develop, design, and install best management practices (BMPs) such as stormwater gardens, conservation landscapes, tree plantings, and stream buffers, we will have the experience of this past week in the back of our minds, inspiring us to do our best work in implementing BMPs to reduce flood risks within the Tiber Hudson subwatershed.

For further reading about our channel maintenance of Ellicott City, see the report pdf below. (Note: there are pictures in the pdf!)

Greenleaf Bioretention

posted Jun 20, 2017, 10:12 AM by Howard Ecoworks

Howard EcoWorks constructed our first bioretention facility in the Greenleaf neighborhood in Columbia. The facility was designed by Howard Soil Conservation District in 2015. Funding was obtained from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and Howard County in 2017 to construct the project. Construction began on 4/6/2017 and ended on 5/19/2017. During Howard County Public School System’s Spring Break, the week of 4/10, nine high school students spent the week with the current READY crew to undertake the majority of the excavation. Approximately 80 cubic yards of soil was excavated BY HAND from two 800 sf cells. Rick Cascioli of Clarkesville did assist with some of the grading with a track loader and track backhoe. On 5/15, approximately 15 Columbia Association volunteers also assisted by adding biosoil to the cells! The facility treats a 1.17 acre drainage area that is 30% impervious. It will remove 9.1 lb/yr of nitrogen, 0.6 lb/yr of phosphorus and 659 lb/yr of sediment reduction. The project cost approximately ~$16,000 with a contribution of ~1,000 labor hours! The neighbors are very excited to be doing their part to protect the adjacent local stream and Green Infrastructure Network!

For more information, check out THIS FACT SHEET.

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